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Why don’t you get a job?

A number of people, upon hearing of my impending retirement from my day-job, have asked what I’m going to do, but really they mean, what job are you going to get. Job? I don’t intend to get a job. You could become a consultant. No, I don’t want to be a consultant. But consultants make good money and with your experience blah blah blah….

My answer has been, I’m going to devote myself to the arts. You see, when I first signed on at Canada Post, it was specifically to support my art habit.

At that time I had a great storefront studio. This was the 80s. The place was $550 per month at its most expensive and I had divided it into two art studios. We had a shared kitchen and a shared bathroom and shower down in the slightly scary basement. The place used to be a hardware store and it had pegboard walls which it turned out was a handy thing to have in a painting studio, because I could hang anything anywhere. This studio was on Ossington Ave between Queen and Dundas back when there were Portuguese kitchen shops and a bunch of somewhat sad little businesses. I think the saddest was the Galaxy Donuts up closer to Dundas. We called it Galaxy Drugs because there were so many drug busts at the place. A couple fish places. Oh, and there were artists, plenty of them too, hidden away here and thee. Across Dundas was the Lakeview back when it was a genuine old diner, before it was renovated to become a hip retro diner. Great place for a late breakfast morning after a party (this was after all the closest period I ever had to “wild years”).

At that time Mendelson Joe lived halfway up the street, near the laundro-mat. I loved it when he sat out on his stoop in his cut-off screaming yellow paint-stained overalls and played his guitar. It added real character to the street.

I had one of Joe’s records at the time, Not Homogenized and it got a lot of play in my studio. He was also making and exhibiting paintings back then. I don’t know if he still does it. They were delightful, brimming with his peculiar humour. I was also familiar with his much earlier musical incarnation as the Mendelson in the great Toronto blues-rock band McKenna Mendelson Mainline. As a side note, much later on, I met Mike McKenna, who at that time held a day job at the post office. Very interesting fellow, and a man with a lot of stories about the music scene. I understand he’s still playing around town.

I digress. I was telling you about my storefront studio on Ossington Ave. I was sorting mail part time in the evening and managing to get by without a full-time gig. That would change. After our landlord sold the building and moved back to the Azores, Toronto experienced a housing boom. Rents went crazy and supporting my art habit with a part time job just wasn’t going to cut it any more.

The last few months at the storefront on Ossington were strange days. A Vietnamese cafe had opened up next door and they blasted the same tape over and over and over and over, loud even through the walls. It was the weirdest collection of music, heavy on disco, but featuring Terry Jacks singing Seasons in the Sun every 52 minutes. After about a month subjected to that song every single hour, I was ready to move.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, I took a job at the Post Office to support my art habit. I actually said on the application that I would only need it for two or three years while I established my art career. OK, I was optimistic. I neglected a zero on my estimate. I know a lot of artists and to this day I can count the ones who don’t have to have some kind of other job on the side.

So here it is 30 years later, and I’m retiring from my day-job. One of the great things about that gig is that the deal came with a really good pension. Hopefully the mothership will continue to be able to support those pensions well into the future. And so here I am on the cusp of “devoting myself to the arts”. That has a nice ring to it.

I think the folks who are convinced I really want or need or will end up with some kind of day job mostly discount the value of the arts. I understand that. I talk to people all the time who would never consider checking out an art show or even hanging a painting in their homes. The idea is simply foreign to some folks. We’ve also had our share of successful politicians who had no use for the arts in their mandate either. I suppose part of the legacy of modernism is a general mistrust of art and artists. In any case, I can’t predict the future or the economy, but at least in my little brain, I have no intention of “working for the man” again, regardless of who the man might be or how enticing the offer.

In the work-a-day world, I often felt I was different from my colleagues because I didn’t define myself by the work I did there.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t make a great effort, because in fact I was always more than dedicated to my work. I just maintained what I have sometimes half-jokingly have called a separation of church and state, and have long defined myself as a painter and protected that activity. I think of painting not as a job (please whatever you do, don’t call me a cultural worker), but as a vocation. Depending where I was, when asked what do you do, I would have to decide if this was a place to tell people I was a painter or should I talk about my day-ob.

The plan, in-so-far as I have one, is to make paintings and create mosaics and write stories and play music on the banjo and on the button accordion, and maybe make a few salad bowl and gourd banjos, and while I’m at it perhaps turn our garden into a living sculpture and otherwise do what I can to live a creative life.

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